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FX Week: «Russian activity on the up»

MOSCOW — Russia’s stable economy, booming markets, soaring demand for financial services and growing number of high net-worth individuals, means banks are now investing in more FX staff in the country, say market participants.

Although domestic and foreign banks curbed activities after the 1998 collapse, market players are bullish as the economy has potential to maintain growth, said Gabriel Kadasi, emerging market analyst at Informa Global Markets in London.

Kadasi said Russian debt is some of the most liquid among emerging markets issuers, and although the state’s borrowing needs are low, the government supports the development of local corporate debt markets and keeps issuing domestic debt instruments. This booming debt market is feeding into demand for FX, he said. «There is a robust, albeit regulated, foreign exchange market due to windfall export revenues from selling oil and other commodities abroad.»

Simon Head, director of FX at search firm Alexander Mann, said demand for FX sales individuals in Russia has increased as a result of the stronger economic activity driven by this demand for commodities. «We are seeing the major banks either strengthening or building an FX sales presence to cover Russian corporates, institutional clients and high-net-worth individuals,» he said. «Traditionally, coverage of this client base has been on a multi-asset basis, however, FX is emerging as an asset class in its own right.»

Igor Souzdaltsev, project manager at Investsberbank in Moscow, agreed that the growing amount of high-net-worth individuals in Moscow means banks can get a lot of FX business in this space. «Forbes says that 50 Russian dollar billionaires and 80,000 millionaires live in Moscow. So FX salesmen are hunting for private banking customers in Moscow,» he said.

«As there are several ways to be more competitive — new technologies, more options for investments abroad — foreign FX professionals are wanted to meet these needs better. The demand is coming from private and investment banks who are looking to be more competitive.»

However, Souzdaltsev added that some banks are hiring FX staff just because they can. «It’s more a fashion thing like buying a Bentley or a personal jet,» he said.

Domestic factor

Another factor driving demand for FX services is the burgeoning domestic economy. Kadasi said there is a strong demand for cash to finance investment or to take advantage of the growing Russian equity markets.

The main index, the RTS, increased some 80% last year. Companies are eager to borrow money or issue shares as the Russia’s image keeps improving.

However, Souzdaltsev warned that foreign banks looking to tap into the Russian FX market will find it a difficult one to crack, as local companies prefer to deal with domestic banks.

«Russian banks are stronger in dealing with corporates and investors because they are closer to the government. In Russia this is critically important,» he said. «However, foreign corporates dealing with Russian banks is very rare. They prefer to work through foreign banks and their affiliates.»

Recent moves at domestic and foreign banks in Moscow include Dmitry Novoselov joining Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein to work on FX sales to Russian corporates (FX Week, January 30), while Pier Becker, forex, rates and commodities salesperson, joined Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital (FX Week, December 5). Both Novoselov and Becker joined locally from Dutch bank ABN Amro.

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